He was ten feet off the cave floor, bike and rider stretched and twisted in the old-school BMX trick that was called a “Judge” and a “Leary” before settling into the modern appellation of “lookback”. Then he disappeared down the backside of the jump and we all heard the thump echo back across two hundred feet. The two thirtysomething men who were pedaling back up to the rest of us in the staging area dropped their bikes then broke and ran in that direction. Silence fell as the chattering children to my right picked up on their parents’ vibe, shut up, and turned to face the incident. Three, four empty seconds and then there was a loud cough. After thirty-three years behind the handlebars of a BMX bike I can heard blood in a cough and this time I heard blood.
More silence. Then: “HE’S UP! HE’S OKAY!” At the trails or the skatepark, “okay” doesn’t mean “unhurt”. It means that the ambulance isn’t coming. A wave of guilty relief swept through seven of the twelve riders surrounding me. They’d come down from Fort Wayne as a group, vans filled with bikes of all sizes for them and their children. An ambulance trip would have ended everybody’s day. I saw the fellow who had crashed stumble out from behind the jump. Someone else carried his bike away. We sat up in the staging area and fidgeted. Nobody wanted to be the first person to hit that section afterwards. You could call it respect or superstition or cowardice; it is all of those. Finally, one of the socially awkward spandex-clad mountain bikers who had arrived right before the wreck clicked into his pedals, rode down the slope, and bumbled through the line, accompanied by the bounce and clank of chain and derailleur. We frowned at this crass incompetence but in truth we were grateful. The spell was broken. Four of the Fort Wayne guys rolled in a tight line after him. The third one boosted a sky-high lookback over the recently-cursed jump and landed it with fingertip delicacy. Then the kids flocked after them and the noise of conversation rose again in the humid, dusty air.
I took a run down the center line and walked my bike back up the incline to conserve energy. When I got to the picnic benches up top the injured rider was sitting there in slack-jawed shock, his helmet still on, twisting his body to get both hands on his drooping left shoulder. He looked like he might vomit in the near future.
“Did you dislocate your shoulder?” I asked. His response was delivered in the patient monotone that always follows a direct impact of helmet to ground.
“I have metal in here,” he replied, “from an old wreck. A lot of metal. And I think… it’s bent.”